District Administration - May 2009 - (Page 20)
Parental Engagement Pays Off this school year. When administrators and teachers at W.T. Cooke Elementary School, an NNPS school in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Public Schools, noticed a problem with attendance last year, the school’s Action Team created “Papa John’s Pizza Party Patrol” to reward parents who get their children to school regularly and on time every day for a month. Named for the pizza provider, and with the support of local grocers that provide soda and dessert, the program delivers pizzas to parents, selected randomly, whose children have perfect attendance records. Activism at Higher Levels In the Portland (Ore.) Public Schools, volunteers in Community and Parents for Public Schools (CPPS) created workshops in three Title I elementary schools to explain to parents in both English and Spanish how to help their children read successfully. From 25 to 38 percent of families in the designated schools consider Spanish their first language. CPPS is one of 19 chapters in 11 states of Parents for Public Schools (PPS), a Jackson, Miss.-based organization that also advocates for more parental activism at higher district levels. “We believe it is crucial for parents to be involved in a way that they understand the laws, what schools are required to do for their children, and the education product schools are delivering. And when things need to be changed, parents need to be part of making those changes,” declares Anne W. Foster, PPS’s executive director. “Our goal is to have meaningful parent involvement at every level, not just helping your kids do homework but also in decision-making and leadership at the district level,” asserts Doug Wells, board president of Portland’s CPPS and parent. Among other activities, CPPS holds an annual Parent Leadership Conference to teach parents “everything from how to get involved at the basic school level to how to become a school activist and get involved at the higher levels,” Wells explains. He chairs a CPPS committee that reviews the district’s budget. CPPS lead20 May 2009 ers also meet bimonthly with Superintendent Carole Smith to discuss other “high level strategic issues,” like redesigning high schools, Wells says. When It’s Not All Roses Some parental involvement activities make administrators uneasy. In the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, a parent-led campaign last year used sophisticated lobbying and communications strategies like e-mail blitzes, online petitions and social networking to force the school board to back off from a 46-year grading policy that some parents thought was unfair to their children competing for admission to the country’s top colleges. The parents wanted to lower the minimum numerical benchmark grade for an “A” from 94 to 90, but Superintendent Jack Dale wanted to keep it. The school board yielded to the parent group and told the superintendent to recommend a new grading policy. “To win, you have to build pressure on the county school structure. You have to run it like a real referendum campaign” with supportive data and “control of the message,” says Catherine Lorenz, a veteran communications strategist and mother of two school children who managed the campaign, called FAIRGRADE. Barbara Hunter, assistant superintendent for communications and community outreach at Fairfax, says the campaign was driven by parents of students in three high schools in affluent communities who gained 10,000 petition signatures but did not necessarily represent all parents in the 168,000-family district. “The downside is that these groups tend to drown out quieter voices that school boards and superintendents need to hear before they make decisions,” she says. They had to ensure the decision was right for all students, not just those at the upper end. However, Hunter adds that it shouldn’t surprise districts that these campaigns can be launched and be successful, given the technology and social networking parents have access to. “They are very skilled,” she says. DA Alan Dessoff is a contributing writer for District Administration. Attendance Is Vital The pizzA pATrol ThAT boosTs student attendance at W.T. Cooke elementary school in Virginia beach (Va.) public schools addresses a critical problem for many districts. one in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students nationwide will miss a month or more of school this year, with a troubling impact on their short- and long-term academic performance— especially if they are poor, according to a report, “present, engaged and Accounted For: The Critical importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the early Grades,” released in september 2008 by the National Center for Children in poverty (NCCp). Children in low-income families are particularly vulnerable because these families often lack resources such as transportation, food, clothing, and social supports that help ensure regular attendance. “Families may also simply be unaware of the adverse impact of chronic early absence,” adds Mariajose romero, senior research associate at the NCCp. “if children are not in school, the odds that they will succeed are greatly reduced.” The NCCp’s national data analysis found that chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower performance in first grade for all children regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Absenteeism declines, researchers say, when schools and communities “reach out to families when their children begin to show patterns of excessive absence.” Attendance is higher where schools “provide a rich, engaging learning experience, have stable, experienced and skilled teachers, and actively engage parents in their children’s education.” RESOURCES National Network of partnership schools www.csos.jhu.edu/P2000 National Center for Children in poverty www.nccp.org parents for public schools www.parents4publicschools.com sTN Alert Now www.alertnow.com District Administration
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District Administration - May 2009
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District Administration - May 2009